LOCKLAND, Ohio — A family's home in Lockland was damaged by a fire Thursday morning, but first responders said the damage might not have been as bad if they could have arrived faster.
Lockland Fire Chief Doug Wehmeyer said it should have taken crews 59 seconds to get from the station to a house fire on Central Avenue. Instead, firefighters spent 15 minutes trying to get around a stopped train that blocked all five crossings.
"Time is of the essence and minutes seem like hours when you are in that kind of situation," Wehmeyer said.
While the family — and their dogs — safely escaped the fire, the house suffered heavy damage that will keep them from sleeping in their home Thursday night.
"Within the two minutes of getting everyone outside, the flames were above the house," resident Jadelynn Roberts said.
Several crews from other local fire departments were also dispatched for the fire. While this is routine when an alarm is called thanks to inter-agency partnerships, Lockland's fire house was less than one mile from the home and their crews should have been first on the scene. Instead, crews coming from surrounding neighborhoods were the first there despite being geographically further away.
The owner of the rail line, Norfolk Southern, said first responders should call the number posted on blue signs at each crossing in an emergency. Mayor Mark Mason said calling does nothing.
"Calling that number is a total waste of time, to be totally blunt with you," Mason said. "It doesn't get any reaction. They simply don't care. Norfolk Southern and CSX do not care about the safety of my residents."
Mason said stopped trains have been a problem he's been trying to fix for years. Roberts said trains often sit for hours every single day.
"You see ambulances get stopped all the time, you see multiple fire trucks that get stopped all the time," Roberts said.
Mason said he has been tracking the number of citations given to stopped trains in the area. In the past 90 days, 85 have been given.
While cities can issue citations against the railroads, the railroads do not have to pay them. Mason said railroads haven't paid a citation in over two years. There are no federal laws on the books regulating how long trains can sit on the tracks.
"We're fed up," Mason said. "We need help and, unfortunately, trains fall under federal guidelines. There is not much, well there is nothing, we can do on the local level."
In a statement, Norfolk Southern said they "never want to inconvenience the community with a stopped train."
"Because our trains have to wait to traverse tracks owned by another railroad, sometimes they do have to make unscheduled stops," the company's statement said. "We make every effort to minimize these impacts, keep crossings open, and prioritize getting and keeping trains moving safely."